Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
By David G. Young
Washington, DC, May 14, 2002 --
It was just about a year ago that I could hardly contain my embarrassment for supporting the new Bush administration. The President had somehow managed to push through a sizeable tax cut despite an evenly divided Senate and bitter Democratic resentment over his disputed election. His other accomplishments were modest, meaning he managed not to not make any major screw-ups. Even his rhetoric, from cutting military spending to supporting liberalized trade to relaxing border controls with Mexico, was shockingly admirable. I was so pleasantly surprised by his performance that I felt shame at sounding like a Republican cheerleader.
What a difference a year makes. For months, the Bush administration has consistently made decisions that make a civil libertarian and free marketeer cringe. Americans, giddy with a renewed nationalism, give Bush a higher approval rating every time he blows an Afghan village to rubble. I find myself where I am much more comfortable -- wholeheartedly in opposition to the policies of the administration, as well as public opinion.
The farm bill that President Bush signed yesterday is a prime example of the shameful actions that have come to characterize the Bush presidency. The new law returns America to the dark ages of subsidies, where farmers are directly paid billions of dollars to continue growing economically unviable crops and reap the windfall from government-imposed price controls.
The big losers from this bill are American consumers, who end up paying higher taxes in the future and more money today for food and other products to support the romanticized but obsolete lifestyle of America's farmers. Most of the benefits, contrary to popular opinion, do not go to family farms, but to corporate operations. The farm bill is corporate welfare at its worst. It's welfare that promises to net Republicans sizable donations from the corporate winners.
As politicians and corporations gain, poor people lose. Many less developed countries depend on agricultural exports to give meager incomes to their desperately poor people. If cotton subsidies were eliminated in the rich world, for example, poverty in the poor African nation of Burkina Faso could be cut in half in six years, according to World Bank and IMF estimates.(1) Rich American farmers have no business taking government handouts so they can better compete with people living in abject poverty.
Of course, this is not the first time Bush as strayed from America's open market track initiated by Bush's father and continued by President Clinton. Several months ago, he chose to impose tariffs on steel imports to help further draw out the inevitable extinction of America's dinosaur steel industry. His corporate benefactors were mightily appreciative, but, once again, it was the American people who lost via higher consumer prices and the risk of retaliatory tariffs from Europe and Japan.
These shameful actions, however, have done nothing to reduce Bush's stellar approval ratings. Unquestionably, this is due to public support for the war on terrorism -- the same war that has given Bush rhetorical cover for his sins. When discussing the farm bill in February, Bush actually tried to link farm subsidies to fighting terrorism by claiming that crop and cattle production are a "national security issue."(2) What utter hogwash! Given the immense size of the American food surplus, only an environmental holocaust could manage to put the country's super-sized population at risk of going hungry.
Of course, George W. Bush is not the first president to go bad after showing initial promise, and he undoubtedly will not be the last. Bush's tax cut may prove to be his first, greatest, and only positive accomplishment.
Related Web Columns:
Not Bad, For a President, May 29, 2001
ADM: Supervillain to the World, September 22, 1998
1. The Washington Post, U.S. Farm Bill Finds Few Fans Abroad , May 5, 2002
2. Ibid, Bush Calls Farm Subsidies a National Security Issue, February 9, 2002